For people able to hunker down during the coronavirus pandemic, buying a car might rank way behind stocking up on hand sanitizer wipes and toilet paper in terms of priorities. But many others still need to get to jobs that can’t be done from home — including healthcare workers, grocery and warehouse workers, and many more — as well as people with caregiving and other responsibilities.
And they may now need a car on a budget as former transit schedules — from city buses to commuter trains — are cut back, car pools are disrupted and ride-share services are impractical in many places. The message, meanwhile, continues to be that this will get worse before it gets better, and not soon.
To help folks in need of cheap transportation to ride out the virus and provide services we all still need, we tapped Cars.com reviewers’ collective experience and combed listings to come up with recommendations that’ll get you to work without breaking the bank. We came up with six good new cars that sticker for about $20,000 or less (including the mandatory destination charge) and six good choices among used cars listed on our site for no more than $15,000.
For the new cars, we chose vehicles with an automatic transmission for the $20,000-or-under price range. Discount deals that are beginning to show up as sales decline could be a budget bonus. Cheap financing deals also are plentiful now.
For the used cars, our picks feature good reviews or a high finish in one of Cars.com’s segment-spanning head-to-head comparison tests against similar vehicles. We narrowed the field to those readily available at the $15K price with relatively low mileage (50,000 miles or less) for lower repair risk. As with all used cars, however, mileage and condition can vary greatly for similar vehicles, and we recommend an inspection before any used-car purchase. Most of these recommended vehicles — generally older with more mileage and more risk — are listed on Cars.com at $10,000 or less if your budget has that limit.
Best New Cars for $20,000 or Less
The Price: As low as $18,470
The Pitch: An all-new subcompact hatchback with an SUV-like shape that combines a low price and long Hyundai warranty with generous standard multimedia and safety tech — such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, an 8-inch touchscreen and a forward collision system with automatic emergency braking. Cars.com reviewer Brian Normile says that what sets the Venue apart “is its combination of technology, style and value, and that should be a winning combination for many new car shoppers — and, Hyundai hopes, those who might believe they’ll have to resort to a used car.”
The Price: As low as $18,855
The Pitch: A roomy compact car, redesigned for 2019, that has a long Kia warranty and lots of value in standard features, including dual-zone automatic climate control, a touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and a forward collision warning system with automatic emergency braking. Said reviewer Kelsey Mays of the 2019 model: “Lavished with advanced safety and convenience features even in its sub-$20,000 variants, Kia’s redesigned sedan packs heavy appeal for value-oriented shoppers.”
The Price: As low as $19,965
The Pitch: A roomy, SUV-style hatchback with a high seating position, good room in front and back, and substantial cargo space (25.3 cubic feet of cargo space behind the backseat); automatic emergency braking is standard. As I said in my review: “The Kicks really is a kick for the price as an urban runabout and commuter — a friendly companion without pretense and with surprising competence.”
The Price: As low as $16,605
The Pitch: A real value in a competent subcompact car, and a hatchback version was added for 2020. Even the hatchback’s nicest trim level still is less than $20,000 ($19,705). The Yaris is a rebranded small car built by Mazda for Toyota that has excellent gas mileage but doesn’t feel cheap. Automatic emergency braking is standard. Says reviewer Aaron Bragman: “Given the hefty dose of Mazda DNA here, it’s also remarkably fun to drive with its zippy engine, tight handling, responsive steering and stylish interior.”
The Price: As low as $15,655
The Pitch: Fully redesigned for 2020 and so much nicer than its predecessor, the Versa has nearly the people and cargo room of a compact car, but the price and fuel efficiency of a subcompact. Automatic front and rear braking are standard. It also shares a lot of trim and tech with the Kicks. As I say in my review, “The 2020 Versa hits all the right notes for value for a wide range of shoppers.”
The Price: As low as $18,610
The Pitch:The boxy Soul hatchback was redesigned for 2020 with improved ride and quietness and is one of the roomiest vehicles on this list. It’s also at the higher end in price, but it packs a lot of standard value, though you do need to move up a level from the base trim to get automatic emergency braking. Says reviewer Jennifer Geiger: “It’s fun (to look at and drive), versatile in terms of people and cargo room and frugal in the fuel department. Two bonuses: It has great forward visibility for a commanding view of the road and top safety scores — both must-haves when fleeing a zombie apocalypse (or virus apocalypse).”
Best Used Cars Under $15,000
If you’re ready to shop for a used car — or have a smaller budget or bigger needs — you can check out Cars.com’s detailed listings for these vehicles. We’ve offered a range of vehicles for different needs, but note that our listings indicate that cars’ lower popularity these days versus SUVs often means you can get more for your money with a car.
1. Subcompact Car: Honda Fit
The Pitch: If a city hatchback with surprising and flexible cargo capacity would fit your needs, the Fit is a good fit. It’s fuel-efficient and has a park-anywhere footprint. It was redesigned for the 2009 and 2015 model years and was the winner of our 2012 subcompact multicar comparison test. It also won a 2015 Cars.com hatchback head-to-head test, and we have listings at this price limit for as recent as the 2019 model year.
2. Compact Car: Honda Civic
The Pitch: The Civic was significantly updated in 2013 and redesigned for 2016 — and we have listings within this price range for as recent as the 2018 model year. The Civic is a capable commuter car with a solid reputation for reliability. Cars.com owned a 2013 Civic LX sedan for a year and found it a solid, low-drama experience. The most recent version dating to 2016 is larger, with nearly the room of a mid-size car. The Civic is also available as a coupe and in sportier Si (stick-shift) variants.
3. Mid-Size Car: Hyundai Sonata
The Pitch: This mid-size sedan has a longtime reputation for value, is a reliable choice and offers good fuel economy compared with the competition. If you’ll be carpooling, this also would be a good choice for its roomy rear seat. The Sonata was redesigned in 2014 for the 2015 model year and finished on top in our 2014 comparison testing among 10 mid-size rivals. In our 2016 mid-size sedan comparison test, it still finished fourth of nine and was ahead of its archrivals, the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. Cars as recent as 2019 are listed at this price; some model years have a hybrid or plug-in hybrid version, too.
4. Subcompact SUV: Nissan Rogue Sport
The Pitch: This Nissan global product was brought to the U.S. for 2017, and we have listings as recent as the 2019 model. The Rogue Sport has more people and cargo room than most subcompact SUVs, as well as standard automatic emergency braking. It finished a close second in our 2018 Subcompact SUV Challenge behind the Subaru Crosstrek, which also is a good choice but harder to find in our listings with low mileage at this price.
5. Compact SUV: Honda CR-V
The Pitch: This stalwart family hauler is among the roomiest and most fuel-efficient compact SUVs. It was redesigned for 2012 and updated for 2015. We have listings for this price as new as 2017 — with more than half equipped with all-wheel drive if that’s a priority where you live. The CR-V won Cars.com’s Compact SUV Challenge comparisons in 2012 and 2015.
6. Eco Car: Toyota Prius
The Pitch: You won’t win any races, but the Prius offers stellar gas mileage and an interior with generous space — and the 2015-and-older models have less zany styling. The transferable battery guarantee on these older cars is eight years/100,000 miles from the orIginal purchase (10 years/150,000 in California).
More From Cars.com:
- How to Inspect a Used Car
- Is a Used Car a Good Idea?
- A Checklist for Used-Car Buyers
- Tips for Buying a High-Mileage Used Car
- A Certified Pre-Owned or Used Car: Which Is Better?
- 7 Great Used SUVs for Small Families
Cars.com’s Editorial department is your source for automotive news and reviews. In line with Cars.com’s long-standing ethics policy, editors and reviewers don’t accept gifts or free trips from automakers. The Editorial department is independent of Cars.com’s advertising, sales and sponsored content departments.